Harvard basketball moving on without 2 top players

It wasn’t long ago when Harvard was orchestrating one of its

best basketball seasons.

There was a conference title. There was the first NCAA

tournament appearance in 66 years.

The Ivy League university was even part of an NBA sensation when

former Crimson guard Jeremy Lin emerged from obscurity to star for

a short time as the point guard for the New York Knicks.

What’s more, coach Tommy Amaker heard indirectly from President

Obama before Harvard’s first-round game against Vanderbilt.

Indeed, the times were good.

”There was a message that we received from someone who did

speak to him that he wanted us to know that he did not pick us in

his pool,” Amaker said Tuesday. ”He picked Vanderbilt, but he

wanted us to know privately that he hoped that we were the team to

bust his bracket.”

Harvard didn’t, losing 79-70 and ending its season at 26-5.

And now Amaker is dealing with other losses. His two top

experienced players are off the team in the wake of an

investigation into an academic cheating scandal and a new season is

upon him.

”There’s not always going to be things that are going to be 75

degrees and sunny outside,” said Amaker, who appears to be taking

the setback in stride. ”There’ll be a cloudy day. There might be a

rainy day. And there might be a storm. But that’s the real world we

live in.”

Kyle Casey led Harvard last season in scoring at 11.4 points per

game. Brandyn Curry topped the team with an average of 4.9 assists.

Both started all 31 games as juniors.

Now they’re gone.

Amaker said he wasn’t allowed to comment on whether they had

withdrawn from the school. But last month, Sports Illustrated

reported on its web site that Casey decided to withdraw rather than

endanger his eligibility, and the Boston Herald reported that Curry

also had decided to take a year off. Both could return next

season.

Harvard has said it was investigating similarities in the

answers that more than 100 students submitted on an open-book,

take-home final. Federal privacy laws prohibit the school from

identifying the students or even the class, but published reports

have said the class is an upper-level government class called

”Introduction to Congress,” and that several of the students are

athletes.

Casey and Curry have been replaced as co-captains by guards

Christian Webster, one of the two remaining seniors, and junior

Laurent Rivard.

”Whether they have the `C’ next to their name (or not), we feel

like they were going to be leaders on our team, in our program,”

Amaker said. ”It’s something that I’m sure that they’ll probably

try to do a little bit more of in terms of leadership roles.”

With Curry gone, highly touted freshman Siyani Chambers is

expected to play more than Amaker had anticipated.

”Does it seem like things could be sped up a little bit? Maybe

so,” Amaker said. ”But we were thinking that he was going to

contribute for us, no matter what, as a freshman.”

But what about the departure of four players who started all 31

games last year? Besides Casey and Curry, Keith Wright and Oliver

McNally are gone after finishing their senior season.

”I may have to do more leading” than normal, said Amaker, who

played for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, and took Seton Hall to the NCAA

tournament in his first job as a head coach. ”I always remember

Coach K always talking about it years ago, and I’m sure he still

does it, that as a head coach you have to learn to give a team what

it needs.

”That’s something I’ve always thought of going into each year

and that may require more from me in that regard, or maybe less. I

don’t know. But it’s that time of year where you’re excited to try

to find out.”

He also said he expects his players to have ”laser-like focus”

and not be distracted by the scandal.

The season opener against MIT Nov. 9 is still a month away.

Harvard has some tough non-conference matchups against Connecticut,

Saint Joseph’s, California, Saint Mary’s and Memphis. Winning them

will be much harder now than it was before Casey and Curry left the

team.

But Amaker said he doesn’t concern himself with diminished

outside expectations for his team’s success.

”For us to maintain our standards (as a team and university)

will be the most important thing that we can do,” he said. ”We’ll

feel good about ourselves as long as we live up to (that).

”We value teaching, leading and serving at our school and those

aren’t just going to be in moments of `rah, rah, rah.’ No great

organization or institution is ever going to just be associated

with moments of where everything is great. So this is a

wide-ranging situation that our entire community and university is

dealing with.

”So, I think we’re encouraged by a lot of folks to do what’s

right, and that’s what we’re always going to do at Harvard.”